What Does a Play Specialist Do?
At Monkey Wellbeing, we’re fortunate enough to meet lots of professionals who specialise in fields such as healthcare, education, charitable causes.
As part of a new series of articles for Monkey Wellbeing, we’ll be sharing insights from a wide range of experts and we’re thrilled to kick things off with a chat with Amy Farmer, a play worker at the Alex Children’s Hospital (also known as the Royal Alex) in Brighton.
Working as a Play Specialist
A hospital play specialist uses their understanding of child development and therapeutic play activities to help children cope with any pain, anxiety or fear they might experience during their time in hospital. Play is used to prepare children for treatment, distract them during a procedure, and help them understand what they have experienced.
Amy shared with us her experiences working as a play specialist, including what to expect from the role and day to day duties. When speaking with Amy, it’s possible to note that perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of working as a play specialist has to be the wide spectrum of children and young adults that play specialists work with. Amy revealed that at the Royal Alex, she works with children of all different ages, including new-born babies all the way up to teenagers, and everyone in between.
Of course, the approach a play specialist takes for each child will vary, as Amy notes, the ‘experience varies per child’, with older children preferring a visual approach, where the treatment is talked through clearly. In comparison, younger children are more suited to what could be considered traditional play therapy, but the amount of time a play specialist will have to work with a child or young adult will vary wildly This is dependent on the circumstances in which a play specialist will meet the child or young adult they’ll be working with. For Amy, when working in accident and emergency, she won’t have very long to acclimatise the child to the treatment they’re about to receive. The child will be seen by a doctor, then the play specialist will meet with them to go over the treatment and make the experience ‘a bit more positive’.
Outside of accident and emergency, when a child is referred to a play specialist, they will have more time to work together and slowly gather information about the child’s needs and concerns. While this is still possible within accident and emergency, it is much more hectic when compared with a referral visit to a play specialist.
Tips for Parents and Carers
When asked what parents and carers can do to help prepare a child for surgery or treatment, Amy shared with us some helpful tips. These include sharing with the child examples of the equipment they’ll see at the hospital; this can be something simple in the form of a toy or a storybook.
Amy also recommends explaining things clearly to children who will be undergoing treatment and not taking their knowledge of medical terminology for granted. As Amy points out, for a child, the term ‘going into theatre’ could mean a show, not surgery, so it’s best to speak on clear terms and explain what their treatment will involve.
Finally, perhaps the most important advice Amy offers is to not to lie to children who will be undergoing care in hospital; while you will want to comfort them about the experiences they’ll have in hospital or receiving treatment, it’s always best to be honest with your child and help address concerns they have, as opposed to telling them the treatment won’t hurt, when it might.
Amy Farmer is a play specialist at the Royal Alex hospital in Brighton. Amy started her career in nurseries and soon progressed to working on day case wards. Monkey Wellbeing would like to thank Amy for her time. To find out more about the play team at the Royal Alex, visit http://www.theroyalalex.co.uk/parents-families/play-team/